Guest article: The COP Conference - What is it? Why is it important?

by Burcu Genç

Let’s make a short recall. In 1992, 2400 NGOs and CSOs  together with 172 countries, 116 presidents and prime ministers gathered in Rio de Janeiro for Earth Summit to discuss about the recent warnings of the scientists on the changing climate. They agreed on the Agenda 21 which includes 21 principles for sustainable development. They also accepted three legal binding agreements:

  • UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCDB)

  • UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

  • UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

UNFCCC entered into force on March 21st, 1994. 197 countries ratified it. We call them Parties of the Convention. The parties gather every year in meetings which we call the Convention of Parties, or in other terms COP meetings. The 2015 Paris agreement acknowledges that climate change is real, and binds all parties to effectively take action.


What is the most efficient way to prevent the effects related to climate change?

We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) which are a combination of gases. In case of over-emission it can lead to severe health problems for living creatures and for the planet. The rapid change in climate we currently witness can be drawn back to human activity since the industrial revolution. For example, when you heat your home with coal, then you emit CO2 to the atmosphere. You think that your home is so tiny that your CO2 emission won’t bother the atmosphere. But everything is correlated with each other.

For example, in Turkey, the state rents forests for private companies. Market oriented global companies open pits in the forests to get the coal from earth, they use gasoline to produce it and damage forests. As they are profit driven, they use the cheapest and dirtiest option to get the coal out of the earth. They don’t care about the social rights of miners and just want you to buy more coal/oil. As they can sell more, they can gain more; you use more coal, you emit more COand those GHGs get so dense that they block the incoming sunlight that needs to escape from the atmosphere. But as the thin air reflection capacity becomes full of GHGs, those GHGs stay in it. The scientists say that there should be less GHGs in the atmosphere comparing to the pre-industrial levels (1800s with 280 ppm-parts per million).

But now we have more than 410 ppm in the atmosphere. So dense that they block the incoming sunlight that needs to escape from the atmosphere. But as the thin air reflection capacity became full of GHGs, those GHGs stay in it. The scientists say that in the atmosphere there should be less GHGs comparing to the pre-industrial levels (1800s with 280 ppm-parts per million). But now we have more than 410 ppm in the atmosphere.

This little story emphasizes that you can do something by not using coal, but you can’t do many things on your own. It is the importance of collectiveness that comes to the stage: Strength in unity.

Then we come back to our starting point. COP: Collective Action for Changing Climate

The governments should gather every year to see what they did over a year to combat climate change. How much did they reduce their GHGs emissions? What more can they do to reduce it even further? To share experiences and show what they did, the parties of the convention gather in a conference which is called the Conference of the Parties, COP.

The first COP meeting was in Germany, in 1995. In a way, COP already finished its undergraduate studies, and is still living in a WG. Or let’s formulate the sentence like this: The countries could have done more than this.

COP26 is important to take into account as the governments explain what they did in the last year and what they are going to do in the next year. Therefore, it is important to create a public opinion to push our own country as well as the other countries attending.    

The first thing that the governments cancelled due to COVID-19 was the COP meeting which should be held in 2020. What does it mean? It means that the countries either don’t want to take action rapidly or they don’t want to talk about the climate crisis. We witnessed that it is easier to cancel a COP meeting than other meetings. 

However, the climate crisis is here. It is in bush fires that burned down the western part of the USA, Australia, and Siberia. It is in the drought that Turkey suffers from as well as in floods in China and Southeastern Asia and in the flowering deserts of Northern Africa and Latin America. The people are suffering on a daily basis from its results in developed, developing and least developing countries. Humanity doesn’t have the luxury to postpone the meetings.

The pandemic teared humanity apart: borders closed, millions lost their job, millions died, millions cured. Humanity was so weak that it couldn’t handle the situation for a year. The scientists say that this was the simulation of the effects of the climate crisis. In 2020, there were 30 storms. The record was 28 storms in 2005. 2020 was the hottest year of the record. Only in 2020, 210$ billion were lost in natural disasters. The native communities in Amazon are suffering from COVID-19, as well as from deforestation. In Atlantic islands, natives are becoming climate refugees as they are losing their land to the rising sea levels. Indonesia is moving its capital Jakarta, as the protection walls from the rising sea levels are sinking 25cm per year.

Because of all this, the COP26 is among the most important gatherings. We, as the public, need to react to the politicians, saying that “enough is enough”. It is important to act now, not tomorrow. Tomorrow has arrived. We have to ask the parties what they have done over two years for the climate crisis to protect biological diversity, ecosystems and humanity. We should ask how much they reduce industrial sectors’ GHGs emissions, how much they did to protect workers for a just transition, how much they did to transform the business as usual to a green and circular economy.

We need to know, we need to watch, we need to monitor, and we need to create new control mechanisms. People should check the countries, and the parties if no one controls them.

OK, but what is our reference? Or let’s say, the European Union has decided to reduce its GHGs emissions by 55% by 2030, is it enough? How do you know if it is enough?

In 2015, the Paris Agreement signed and ratified by 190 countries (including USA again) out of 197 countries. Seven countries that didn’t ratify the agreement are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Turkey, Yemen, South Sudan and Eritrea.

The Paris Agreement is legally binding the countries to submit their plans to cut emissions which is called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). With these plans, the agreement seeks to maintain global temperature’s warning limit to well below 2°C, preferably the target is 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial levels.

Furthermore, the Paris Agreement requests from the signatory parties to have their NDCs ready in 5 years. In 2020, all the signatory parties should have given their NDCs.
In these NDCs they declare what will they do to reduce their GHGs to reach the Paris Agreement target and how they will build a resilient community to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change. In other terms, they declare their roadmap into their net-zero target by 2050. They have to achieve these to maintain global temperature rise in 1.5°C.

Quelle: Marcin Jozwiak

What is 1.5°C? Why is it so important?

1.5°C is the temperature limit of the world to continue life as we know it. If global warming exceeds 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial level, the world’s weather would be extreme in which humanity/nature/ecosystems will fail and we won’t have the life that we know. To maintain 1.5°C, GHGs should be reduced globally 45% by 2030 compared to the 2010 levels and should be neutralized by 2050. To achieve that there should be big transformation in all the carbon-dense sectors.

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Burcu Genç is a journalist working in EKOIQ which is a green business magazine in Turkey celebrating its 11 years in 2021. Burcu also is doing advocacy works about environmental rights in Yeşil Gelecek Derneği (Green Future Association). She had a semester in Viadrina European University as part of her double degree program. During her stay, she met with our team of the Climate Bet.